Omri Casspi feels a different vibe. He sees glimpses of a promising future. He has been encouraged enough during the opening weeks of the George Karl Era to say unequivocally that he wants to re-sign with the Kings when his contract expires at the end of the season.
With 13 games remaining, the sixth-year veteran also is quick to note that the ending for the 2014-15 season has yet to be written.
Auditions are ongoing. Karl is continuing to experiment. Vlade Divac is watching intently and studying everything, including locker room dynamics.
“I want to come back here so badly,” Casspi, a first-round draft pick by the Kings in 2009, said. “I love the community and I feel like the team is finally moving in the right direction. George Karl’s system is great, and I’m not just saying that because I play for him, but because I really do believe this is the right way to play basketball. Spacing the floor. Moving, making extra passes, sharing the ball. Getting our hands on balls, deflections, then getting out and running. Unfortunately, coach Karl has not had a lot of time to teach us everything, but these last two games, you can see what we can become.”
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Two games is a small sample, but the Kings have to start somewhere. The previous eight-game trip was as expected: a bruising 2-6 adventure that brought the team limping back to Sleep Train Arena for a five-game homestand that ends Tuesday against the Philadelphia 76ers.
A victory over the woeful Sixers would give the Kings only their third three-game winning streak of the season and avenge a loss to the 76ers 10 days ago in Philadelphia. The NBA is results driven; even in the dregs of a lost season, victories lighten the mood by encouraging players and reinforcing the teachings of the coach.
“I think that’s (Sunday against the Wizards) the best we’ve probably played since I’ve been here,” Karl said. “Best total game both offensively and defensively.”
Those glimpses of Karl ball included the following: Rudy Gay stretching the floor with his deep shooting, driving the lane for graceful spinning layups or elevating for one of his high-arching, mid-range jumpers; DeMarcus Cousins shrugging off foul trouble, rebounding and intimidating underneath and threading the defense with one-bounce outlet passes; Derrick Williams busting downcourt, gathering look-ahead lobs from Andre Miller and Ray McCallum and throwing down highlight dunks; McCallum harassing opposing ballhandlers and staying in front of his man; Reggie Evans punishing underneath and muscling bigger, taller foes for rebounds; Jason Thompson defending the interior and accepting the leftovers offensively.
And Casspi? He has always been a tad wild, and in his sixth season he is crazy in a crazy-as-a-fox sense. While he shares the same agent (Dan Fegan) as Cousins, he was so ecstatic when Karl was hired he was like the good neighbor who rushes next door with plates of cookies and goodies.
Casspi, 26, has moved around enough: Maccabi Tel Aviv, Sacramento, Cleveland, Houston and Sacramento again. Though not a fan of Paul Westphal’s isolation-heavy offense during his first two NBA seasons, he had mixed feelings about being traded to Cleveland. After two erratic seasons with the Cavaliers and an invigorating year playing for Kevin McHale in Houston, the 6-foot-9, 225-pound forward signed a one-year, $1 million deal last summer to return to the Kings.
The ensuing months were eventful and stressful, though as he points out, the final act awaits. Before Michael Malone was fired and Casspi’s prolonged bout with left knee tendinitis coincided with Cousins’ 10-game absence because of viral meningitis, he contributed much the same way he has recently: racing downcourt ahead of the defense, grabbing rebounds, deflecting and intercepting passes, penetrating for layups and making plays for teammates.
“Omri is an energy guy,” Karl said. “(Sunday) he did a really good job … he found the window, which I think is a big part of what we’re trying to do. And he made some good plays out of it. These last two-three games he is playing much better.”
If Casspi re-signs with the Kings, his girlfriend Shani Ruderman, a Los Angeles native who has practiced law in Israel, plans to take the California bar exam. She’s taking classes at Sacramento State to improve her English language skills.
“Shani loves it here,” Casspi said. “We both do. This community has been through so much, and now we are on the right path. I want to be a part of that, especially with that new arena coming, coach Karl and Vlade here. When the time comes, my agent will talk to (general manager) Pete (D’Alessandro) and hopefully we get it done.”
Call The Bee’s Ailene Voisin, (916) 321-1208.